Palm wine in Igbo land comes in two sources: nkwu (palm tree) – the source of the palm wine known as “Mmanya Nkwu”, and ngwo (rafia palm tree) – the source of the palm wine, known as “Mmanya Ngwo”. Each of the palm wine categories are regarded with different respects. Each has different functions in different occasions, depending on of course, how that particular area or village regards it.
In production, they are tapped in much the same way, by climbing to the required height or to the neck of the palm tree and cutting ducts, under which are placed local mugs (calabashes) or plastic gallons. In some areas, the “Mmanya nkwu” is tapped also from a fallen palm tree. However, it is worth mentioning that the quantity of “Mmanya ngwo” obtainable from the palm tree is usually about thrice that of “Mmanya nkwu” within the same time limit.
In taste, they are also different while “Mmanya ngwo” tastes very sweet (sugary) but goes sour (fermentation) within a shorter duration. The “Mmanya nkwu” has a unique sweet, but pleasant taste which it maintains for a longer duration. Some areas in Igboland regards “Mmanya nkwu” better than “‘Mmanya ngwo”. This preference sometimes depends on the availability of one over the other in that area. Hence in some areas, traditional marriage and bride price ceremonies are not honoured with “mmanya ngwo”, some other areas can accept “mmanya ngwo” where “mmanya nkwu” is not available. In some areas, the preferred kind of wine is employed in settling land disputes, in traditional gatherings, marriages, burials, festivities, land leasing occasions, among a host of other activities and ceremonies too numerous to mention.
When being served in any occasion, the associated rules are obeyed. In any gathering, it is the youngest man or male that serves the wine, which is usually drunk traditionally in either elephant tusks or cow horns for titled men. There is also another drinking cup called “Okuku”, a small type of cup made from a calabash. The young man serving will hold the wine container (calabash or gallon) on his left lap (thigh) and supports it with his left hand, while he holds the tusk or horn (“mpi” or “Okuku” – calabash cup) in his right hand. The first one he serves is handed to the host to drink. The second goes to himself, while the third goes to the eldest man in the gathering.
After all the formalities, the rest of the men are equal, and are served except for titled men who are served first before the others. But if the young man is to serve the wine standing, he holds the base of the container with his right hand and the neck with his left hand, while the partakers holds out their cups for him to pour out the wine. This is not the case for a woman. If she is to be served the wine, the young man pours it himself and hands the cup of wine to her, who in turn receives it with both hands as mark of respect and honour. She must not drink it while standing in the gathering; she squats down or sits somewhere before drinking it. If at any point the young man decides to shake the container to make for even concentration, he must first drop the container on the ground before he continues serving and the first person to tap him will receive a cup of wine.
The last cup of palm wine which contains the dregs (Ugwu mmanya) is usually given as a mark of honour to the eldest or the host. The Igbo man, you may infer, is actually rich in culture and tradition.
In subsequent write-ups, I will emphasize on the importance of Palm Wine to the Igbo race, and indeed the whole world.
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